Are Face Masks Effective in Protecting Against the Coronavirus? (2:14)
UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information on March 26, 2020 - 2 p.m. EST.
One of the outstanding COVID-19 clusters is in Italy, where there are at least 80,000 confirmed cases, and the death toll has risen to 8,165, according to the CDC. But COVID-19 has threatened China, Japan, and South Korea for months and it seems nearly no country is exempt. With this disease seemingly spreading, what's next for the U.S., whose own numbers are growing rapidly? Who’s most at risk for COVID-19? Though this outbreak has some staggering statistics, it’s important not to panic, but instead look to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for updates, stay cautious, and understand your individual risk factor.
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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus began in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. Just a few months later, as of Mar. 26, 2020, there have been over 510,000 confirmed cases worldwide and it has affected 175 counties/regions. On Feb. 2, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that COVID-19 claimed the life of a patient in the Philippines, which was the first death to occur outside of mainland China. Three days earlier, the organization declared the virus a global health emergency. Over 120,000 of the 510,000-plus cases have recovered, so contracting COVID-19 is not necessarily always fatal. Here’s what the CDC recommends to avoid contracting the disease, who’s most at risk and why.
Symptoms & How to Protect Yourself
According to the CDC, symptoms of confirmed cases of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The CDC also states that “symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses.”
There’s currently no vaccine available to prevent COVID-19, but testing of potential medications has begun. The CDC recommends to take similar precautions as you would to stop the spread of the flu. These include staying home when you feel ill, frequently disinfecting commonly used items (such as desks, laptops, phones, and purses), and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wearing a face mask has not been proven to protect those who are healthy. According to the CDC, “face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).” Basically, if you're already healthy, pulling on a face mask will do little to protect your health at the airport or anywhere else.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions are most susceptible to the most extreme cases of COVID-19. Those who are healthy individuals are less likely to fall ill. Scientists theorize that the reason some people get more sick than others from COVID-19, might stem from the varied pathogen responses that come from the person who has contracted the illness, which can depend on age and genetics.
Additionally, scientists have noticed that men might be more affected by COVID-19 than women. After studying the 2003 SARS outbreak, scientists found that males had a significantly "higher case fatality rate than females did, 21.9% versus 13.2%," which might be similar to COVID-19, since they are both acute respiratory sydnromes, The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports. This may be due to the fact that the gene for the ACE-2 receptor, the host receptor for SARS, is found on the X chromosome.
When comparing COVID-19 to SARS further, SARS had a higher fatality rate than COVID-19 presently does. SARS’ fatality rate was 9.6%, whereas COVID-19 is at 3.4%; SARS affected 29 countries/regions whereas COVID-19 has hit 175.
Follow your doctor’s instructions if you have a pre-existing condition or disease. Make your decisions based in fact and science and not in hysteria, and be aware that with any a new disease often comes harmful stigmas. Learn what they are so you can help help prevent yourself and others from falling into this fear.